And that work has begun to pay dividends. Not only is Woods starting to regain his power and distance off the tee with the club that suffered the most when his knee was deteriorating (2005-08) and then slowly healing (earlier this season), he has begun to hit more greens as his practice sessions have expanded.
In the two tournaments he has played since he began to log more range time (the Memorial and U.S. Open), Woods hit 53 and 48 greens — 70.1 percent. That would rank third on tour, is in line with his standard success in the category and is likely to be far closer to what he’ll do going forward than his early season numbers, which were affected by rust, weakness and an inability to practice.
Strangely, the club that has tormented Woods this season is the one that requires no ACL to wield, the instrument that has defined his greatness more than any other: his putter.
“I striped it [all] week,” Woods said after a balky putter condemned him to a tie for sixth at Bethpage Black. “I hit it just like I did at Memorial, and unfortunately I didn’t make anything.”
When Woods said he isn’t making “anything,” he wasn’t exaggerating by much. On putts between 15 and 20 feet, Woods ranks 131st, connecting on only 15.8 percent of his opportunities. On putts between 20 and 25 feet, he has been even worse, making just 7.4 percent (154th). Those are scoring putts, the kind that turn a 69 or 70 into a 66 or 67.
What are the odds that a man with his platinum putting stroke will continue producing results like a 10-handicapper with Delirium Tremens? As Stricker said, Woods is going to start dropping those putts. And when he does, watch out, because the golf world could be transported back to the last time Woods stood on two completely healthy legs and unloaded his entire arsenal of shots on the game.
From 2000 to 2002, Woods won 19 times and claimed six of the 12 majors, including the unparalleled Tiger Slam.
Harbingers of the coming storm already exist. Woods comes to Congressional boasting a career-best streak of 18 consecutive top-10 finishes in stroke-play tournaments dating to the 2007 British Open. That’s golf’s new definition of consistent excellence.
If he actually starts making putts, they might just retire the sport.